Recently, the medical practice in which I work partnered with a national program called Reach Out and Read. This program promotes language and literacy skills among young children as well as building a foundation for the love of reading.
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, each year in the United States, 35 percent of children entering kindergarten lack the language skills that they need to read. Moreover, the lack of skills necessary to read at grade level increases the risk of school failure as learning becomes reading-dependent.
We live in a digital culture in which children are more likely to watch television, play video games and listen to digital music than they are to snuggle up with a good book. Yet reading is the fundamental skill that promotes the advancement of knowledge and establishes the habits of lifelong learning.
Language skills begin at the earliest age through parental interaction with an infant and exposure to the spoken word. Before the first birthday, evidence indicates that exposure to books and reading enhances language development. Reading to older infants and preschool-aged children should become a part of the family routine.
Through reading, children learn the relationship between the written and spoken word. They also learn that language can be represented through symbols such as pictures and words. Reading enhances the breadth of language experience for the small child as it differs from play-based verbal communication and ordinary conversation. This variety promotes language skills.
Yet the benefits of reading dont stop there. By reading regularly to your child, you promote development of their vocabulary (the number of words whose meaning the child understands). The ritual of reading itself can enhance parent-child interaction, promoting the parental bond and instilling a greater sense of confidence and security in the child.
The Reach Out and Read Program is a national program that partners with medical providers and other child advocates to promote the development of early childhood language skills through reading. According to Reach Out and Read, reading out loud to your child is the single most effective tool for helping your child develop language and literacy skills. It is fundamental to fostering school readiness and future school success.
Yet fewer than half of U.S. children younger than 5 are read to every day.
March 2 was the birthday of the great childrens author Theodor Giesel, whom most of us know as Dr. Seuss. That day was declared National Read Across America Day by the National Education Association.
If you are a parent and you havent enjoyed the pleasures of reading such classics as The Cat in the Hat with your child recently, stop by your neighborhood bookstore or local library and browse the childrens section. Its a great day to start an important new habit.
Oh yeah if you read this article, please be sure to thank a parent and a teacher.
Dr. Matthew A. Clark is a board-certified physician in internal medicine and pediatrics practicing at the Ute Mountain Health Center in Towaoc.